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Debbie Gibson wrote a moving tribute to late singer George Michael, whose death was announced Sunday and whose music had a tremendous influence on the singer-songwriter’s life and career.

In a post on her personal website, Gibson remembers the former Wham! singer as a contemporary but also as a young fan. She recalled being 13 years old and first encountering the pop duo by hearing their signature song.

“I will never forget the day I got home from school and turned on MTV and there it was. ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go Go,’ quite possibly THE catchiest pop song I had EVER heard! As a pop fan and a budding songwriter, I was beyond inspired,” Gibson writes. “I announced to my family I had a new favorite group. The posters went up on my garage studio wall.”

There were other landmark moments in Gibson’s life that intersected with her Wham! fandom, such as a crush handing over all his band memorabilia as he’d outgrown the group, to winning concert tickets at 14 — a few years before her first record deal. (The Philadelphia show featured Chaka Khan opening for Wham!)

Before reaching star status, Gibson was flown in to meet Michael with her sister and mom. It was an overwhelming, but calming experience: “I was freaking out! He was super gracious and invited me to sit with him backstage in the catering hall to eat dinner before his performance. I could barely function. I was SO nervous, though he was super down to earth — albeit introverted — and, did everything within his power to set me and my family at ease.”

Michael died “peacefully at home over the Christmas period” at 53, his reps confirmed to EW on Christmas, leaving behind an astounding pop music catalog and many admirers. Gibson writes that she hurts after losing a hero and an artist.

“But at the heart of it all is the MUSIC. I know how devastated we all are that such an incredible talent and person has left us so soon, but there is such beauty in art and in the fact that he bared his soul and dared to be an innovator and dared to take a lot of heat for being who he was both personally and musically,” Gibson continues. “I was a fan from note one. I know many of you reading this share that same experience. For those with eyes and ears that saw and heard beyond the confines of a 3 minute 45 second snapshot of someone’s talents and a pin-up picture in Smash Hits, the soul of a timeless genius awaited. We Listened Without Prejudice to the future of music. He was always a step ahead.”

Read Gibson’s full note here.